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How Allen Webster's future reflects the outlook of prospect evaluation

Allen Webster's pitching arsenal is one of the best in the Red Sox farm system. What he does with that arsenal will say a lot about player development and evaluation.

Stephen Dunn

Allen Webster is one of the more interesting Red Sox prospects to come across the farm system in the last decade or so. It's not that Webster is the most talented or even interesting pitcher that has gone through the system, because he truly isn't -- pitchers like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz had more pure talent as prospects.

Rather, Webster represents an interesting crossroad between scouting, gut instincts and statistical analysis. As a result, Webster will, years down the road, represent an interesting case study to look at the balance between the three areas of player development and baseball analysis.

One of the prevailing sentiments that has arisen regarding Webster, especially during his tenure with the team in 2014, is that the righty looks as if he is not confident in his stuff and looks scared on the mound. There is no way to truly know what is going on inside Webster's head, but the gut instinct of many is that the 24-year-old doesn't have the "mental strength" to make it as a starter in the major leagues.

Interestingly enough, some within the clubhouse seemingly have a view of Webster that is the total opposite of public perception. One player chuckled when asked about Webster's appearance and the sentiment that he "looks scared on the mound." While the player understood why this perception could exist, purely based on Webster's body language and appearance, he insisted that Webster is a "competitor who wants the ball on the mound."

There isn't any way to measure what Webster is thinking when he is on the mound. A similar perception still haunts Clay Buchholz to this day, despite the righty's prolonged stretches of significant success.

The sentiment around Webster's arsenal and his raw stuff is very different from that surrounding the hurler's demeanor and mound presence. Some talent evaluators coming into 2014, viewed Webster as the pitcher with the highest ceiling in the Red Sox farm system, citing the electricity of the righty's sinker, an above-average slider and a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90's. The biggest knock on Webster has been his command, something that has plagued the righty in his time in the major leagues.

Webster has flashed the potential dominance of his arsenal from time-to-time on a nearly inning-by-inning basis in his starts at the major league level. Webster, however, has had the propensity to fall apart and not put things back together. Webster's start on Friday was the best of the righty's career, when he went 6 2/3 innings pitched with two runs allowed, two walks, three strikeouts and four hits. Webster mixed in his slider well, which allowed him to use his fastball and sinked advantageously.

From a pure stuff standpoint, Webster could be a pitcher who could be a mid-rotation type pitcher. While Webster's command -- in a vacuum -- will ultimately separate whether he is a starter or reliever, the righty has the stuff to succeed at the major league level.

At a statistical angle, Webster does not have a whole lot left to prove at Triple-A. Webster has logged 227 innings at Triple-A, accumulating a 3.33 ERA, striking 9.9 and 7.4 batters per nine innings in 2013 and 2014 respectively. This season in Triple-A, Webster has a 3.10 ERA with 100 strikeouts, 44 walks, nine home runs allowed, .234 opponent batting average and one save (Webster's one appearance as a reliever was a four inning stint where he allowed four runs and still recorded the save) in 122 innings pitched over 21 games (20 starts).

Webster has displayed relatively consistent control, strong strikeout totals and the ability to keep the ball in the ballpark at the Triple-A level. When he pitches in the majors, however, Webster's Triple-A numbers are thrown out the window. Webster has not shown the ability to be consistent with his command or control, despite his above-average arsenal.

Webster, at the moment, is the dictionary definition of a Quadruple-A pitcher: too good for Triple-A and not yet developed enough to have consistent success in the majors.

Whether or not Webster ultimately fulfills even 80 percent of his potential will be interesting to see unfold. Webster will ultimately show the affect of the mental aspect of the game (in addition to how much one's gut instinct about a pitcher's makeup predicts future success), the importance of a good, electric arsenal and the significance of Triple-A success for young prospects in predicting future major league success.

Given the divisive nature of Webster as a prospect, how the righty will be used, whether that is as part of a trade or in the Red Sox pitching staff moving forward, will be telling in striking a balance between three of the major aspects that go into evaluating the future success of prospects.